# Input Sparsity and Hardness for Robust Subspace Approximation

In the subspace approximation problem, we seek a k-dimensional subspace F of R^d that minimizes the sum of p-th powers of Euclidean distances to a given set of n points a_1, ..., a_n in R^d, for p >= 1. More generally than minimizing sum_i dist(a_i,F)^p,we may wish to minimize sum_i M(dist(a_i,F)) for some loss function M(), for example, M-Estimators, which include the Huber and Tukey loss functions. Such subspaces provide alternatives to the singular value decomposition (SVD), which is the p=2 case, finding such an F that minimizes the sum of squares of distances. For p in [1,2), and for typical M-Estimators, the minimizing $F$ gives a solution that is more robust to outliers than that provided by the SVD. We give several algorithmic and hardness results for these robust subspace approximation problems. We think of the n points as forming an n x d matrix A, and letting nnz(A) denote the number of non-zero entries of A. Our results hold for p in [1,2). We use poly(n) to denote n^{O(1)} as n -> infty. We obtain: (1) For minimizing sum_i dist(a_i,F)^p, we give an algorithm running in O(nnz(A) + (n+d)poly(k/eps) + exp(poly(k/eps))), (2) we show that the problem of minimizing sum_i dist(a_i, F)^p is NP-hard, even to output a (1+1/poly(d))-approximation, answering a question of Kannan and Vempala, and complementing prior results which held for p >2, (3) For loss functions for a wide class of M-Estimators, we give a problem-size reduction: for a parameter K=(log n)^{O(log k)}, our reduction takes O(nnz(A) log n + (n+d) poly(K/eps)) time to reduce the problem to a constrained version involving matrices whose dimensions are poly(K eps^{-1} log n). We also give bicriteria solutions, (4) Our techniques lead to the first O(nnz(A) + poly(d/eps)) time algorithms for (1+eps)-approximate regression for a wide class of convex M-Estimators.

Comments: paper appeared in FOCS, 2015

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